Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ubud and the Beautiful Culture

Hello family and friends,

We are still in Ubud and absolutely loving it. Ubud has been a great place to learn about traditional Balinese culture, and it is beautiful. I imagine you could stay here for months and still learn something new everyday about their culture and way of life.
Ubud is basically surrounded by several rice paddies and is the best place to look at all the beautiful art. I wish I could take it all home with me.
We are staying at a place called Pondok-Inda for 100,000 Rp ($10) a night. We have a magnificant view of rice paddies and a lovely deck where Wayan brings us breakfast every morning. Our room is big and has hotwater and flushing toilet which is always a plus. : ) We love it.
Once we arrived to our new place (second day in Ubud) we met our Canadian neighbors, Lena and Marilyn. Lena actually comes to Bali every year to export artwork back to Canada for her business. She is in love with Balinese people and knows her way around, so it was nice talking with her about Ubud.
We drank a few cups of coffee that Wayan brought to us before heading to the market, a rather interesting experience.
Back in 2002 and 2005, Bali, a predominantely Balinese Hindu cultural, was bombed by militant Islamists, decreasing tourism and increasing economic hardship. As a result, the Balinese people will bargain hard, sometimes even trapping or grabbing your hand until you say yes to whatever it is you’re interested in. I should also mention that you should never say yes to the first price offered. Usually, they will tell you a ridiculous price accompanied by the words “cheap, bring good luck” in the slight chance you will actually pay it.  For example, Bryan was looking at a watch that was worth maybe $5 and he wanted $40. I looked at him with my hands crossed, smiled and said come on now. He smiled back because he knew we couldn’t be fooled – or could we? : )
Anywho, so I found a dress I was interested in at the market when all of a sudden the lady was putting it over my head and told me I “have good figure for dress.” She offered the dress to me for 210,000 rp ($21). I told her it was way too expensive and took it off. I finally got her down to about 70,000 rp, but decided I didn’t really need it. That is when she took my arm and said “how much you pay.” I told her 30,000 rp and she said 35,000. I bought it. : )
I found another dress that I bargained down to 30,000 rp ($3), but Bryan accidentally gave here 500,000 instead of 50,000. Oops. It is very important to watch the zeros when giving money. We went back to her and told her what we had done. She was not honest at first, but we were happy she gave it back. 
The market was rather exhausting so we went back to our room, relaxed, and had good conversations with the Canadian ladies. It was Lena’s fourth or fifth time staying at Pondok-Inda, so she knew about a great view on top of the temple where we saw the most beautiful sunset. I had not seen a sunset like that in a long time, and as a result, I took about a million pictures. We could see one of the volcanoes from a distance as well.
As we were watching the sunset, Lena told us a little more about the Balinese culture.  I already knew a bit about their cultural after reading the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and one of the things Lena and this author described was the birth order naming system. First born – Wayan, Second born – Made (pronounced Mah – day), third born – Nyoman, fourth born – Ketut. After meeting about a million Wayan’s and Ketut’s, we have decided it’s important to know last names here. : )
Another interesting cultural learning experience is the family compounds. Families are very important in this culture and immediate and extended families live in what is known as a compound. Every compound has their own temple. I was amazed. There are also ceremonies for everything. I would love to go to a wedding or birth ceremony, but I probably need to become good friends with a family first.
After learning a little more about Balinese cultural, we went out to dinner with Lena and Marilyn. Lena knows all the cheap places in town and it was very good.
The following day we decided to go with Marilyn on a tour with Lena’s good friend Made, who she has known for 13 years. Lena stayed behind in an effort to pack boxes for shipping.
On the way to the terraced rice patties, we stopped on the side of the road and watched several women working in the rice fields. They were all wearing triangular shaped hats and were thrashing rice stalks. These women work very hard all day long.
We then made our way over to the famous terraced rice paddy.  See picture - 
 It was beautiful.
On the way to our next destination, we were able to see many Balinese people making their arts and crafts. We saw people carving wood and making the ever cool instrument known as the didgeridoo. It has been amazing to see all the creativity in Ubud.
The first temple we saw was called The Temple of Holy Water. To enter the temple you are required to wear a sarong that covers your legs. Bryan had to wear one as well. They don’t care so much about the shoulders as they do your lower body. The temple was very big and beautiful with a nice little pond in the center. Fortunately, this temple provided a sarong, but the next temple did not. Made ended up taking us to the town where the next temple was located and we bargained for a couple of pretty nice sarongs for 70,000 before entering.
After visiting the two temples we made our way over to the coffee plantation. This is where you can purchase Kopi luwak coffee which is very expensive. Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee and luwak is the local name of the animal known as Asian Palm Civet. Basically, this animals eats and poops the coffee berries. If you ever saw the movie “The Bucket List” then you know what I’m talking about. : ) Bryan was going to drink some, but we ended up not having enough time. We kind of regret it now.
Our next destination was Batur Volcano. It was quite the view. Unfortunately, my camera died right before we arrived, so Marilyn took pictures for me and will send them to me when she gets back to Canada in May. We headed into a buffet restaurant and ate a lot of good Indonesian food while enjoying a splendid view of the volcano.
We drove around Lake Batur at the base of the volcano for a little bit before heading back to Ubud. We rested for a couple hours and then Made picked us up again and took us to a destination in Ubud where thousands and thousands of Herons migrate every year. No one knows why they migrate to this one specific spot in Ubud, but it has happened every year since 1965 since seven herons showed up and the town had a welcoming ceremony.  Now, there are thousands.  They only sit on one row of trees by the road.  Not on the similar trees behind them, or on the ones at the end of the road; only that little strip. We sat and watched them all fly in. The trees were covered with herons – it was amazing.
Later that night Bryan and I ate at our favorite cheap restaurant named Biah Biah (it means baby rice shoots).  We can eat for a total of $5 for the two of us. mmmm – and it was tasty.
The next day we woke up and made our way over to the monkey forest. There were hundreds of monkey swimming, playing, grooming one another, and jumping on tourists. : ) They’ll only really jump on you if you have food in your hand or you have something they want, whatever it is. The monkeys did not seem as aggressive as the ones in Thailand, but Bryan and I did not want to take any chances by holding them.  There was one guy from Australia who was asking for it. He was playing and holding every monkey he saw. He then tried to pet one of the baby monkeys while the mama was holding it. Idiot – what was he thinking. He got bit on his shoulder and started bleeding.
After the monkey forest we went over to a place called the Honeymoon where you can swim for 20,000 rp. We ordered food by the pool and relaxed for a couple hours.
For dinner we ate “sukling pig” (yes, that’s how they spell it) at a place that supposedly has the best in town. I did not care for this sukling pig, but Bryan loved it. He ended up eating my plate as well.
Later than night we went to a traditional Balinese Dance. It was called Kecak Fire and Trance Dance and was presented by Taman Kaja Community.  This community has about 140 families and almost all adult members of this community were involved in one way or another with the presentation. It’s hard to describe, but basically there were about 50 or so men chanting while a story was being told through costumes and dance. We loved it.  At the end of the presentation there was a trance dance. This is a god-inspired trance-dance that is used to protect society against evil forces and epidemics. The horse rider (man with horse costume)  is lulled into trance by repetitive sounds and in his tranced state he walks on a bed of burning coconuts as a way of responding to the sounds. Kind of hard to explain, but basically he was walking on fire and kicking the burning coconuts. All and all, it was a great cultural experience.  A burning coconut hopped the restraining barrier and landed on Bryan’s foot.  Yes, it was hot.
The following morning we went to a health food restaurant and store called Bali Buddha. Bali Buddha buys their produce from local farmers and is considered to be an environmentally and socially responsible business, and you know me, I’m always willing to support businesses such as this one. Bryan and I just had bagels with cream cheese because we wanted to eat the vitamin lunch at a place called “Traditional Balinese Healing” where Wayan from the book “Eat, Pray, Love” works. Unfortunately, she was not there and so we left and ate a big burrito instead. It was delicious.
We went back to our room after it started pouring down rain. The rain put me to sleep for an hour and Bryan sat on the porch reading.
Later that evening we decided to get an hour massage for 50,000 ($5) each. The two people who massaged us were married, and they did not give us any privacy to change. It was a great massage though.
We went back to Bali Buddha for dinner and had a couple traditional Balinese health drinks. I am recovering from a soar throat and cough, and Bryan has recently developed a soar throat as well. I ordered a drink called Batuk which treats wet and cold coughs and Bryan ordered a drink called Tolak Angin which treats cold and flu symptoms and improves immunity. They were disgusting. I can’t really tell you if it helped or not, but I’m sure it helped somewhat since I drank a shot of ginger along with the drink.
Well, it is the next morning and we are getting ready to eat breakfast. Ubud has been amazing so far. We have no idea when we will be leaving Bali because we love it here so much.
Hope all is well,

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